Have you ever used Apps in your English Classes?

by Kevin R Burns

Have you ever used apps in your English classes?

Some entrepreneurial teachers are designing their own apps for use in English classes. Have you ever thought of designing one?

With tools like LiveCode, it has never been easier to design your own app. We talk about it with Bob Coffee.

Bob, How long does it take to make a good app?

That is a tough question. There are actually 2 answers: a really long time and not so much.

Taking the no so long time answer first. If you know what you are doing and have all the necessary skills and ideas then it doesn’t take that long. You need to be able to program of course, create and edit graphics, work with animation, record sound, edit sound, do voice overs, sound effects, and create English language content. Every one of those requires some special skill, whether it be knowledge of software like Photoshop or Illustrator, audio editing software, how to use mixing board hardware, microphone setup, or computer programing. Oh and there is game design, UI layout, and what makes an interesting app. But if you have all those skills or can put a team together that has all those skills, then no it doesn’t take very long at all. Maybe 2 to 6 months depending on the app design and the amount of content and game play you have.

The other answer is it takes a long time. If you consider that the programmer probably has 3-10 years of experience, if you consider that the graphic artist has artistic talent and not only can draw but can draw and animate digitally using a computer, if you consider that audio recording is not just speaking into a microphone but setting up a sound space that has no echo, no environmental noises and that that person can mix and edit recorded voice, then optimize file sizes without losing sound quality because mobile devices have limited memory capacities, it is easy to say that it takes a few years to develop the skills needed to create an app. If you were actually doing everything yourself and started from scratch, I would say it might take 20-30 years for that first app. But then maybe 3 months for the second. It’s that first app that always gets people.

Is it difficult to make a good app?

There is a saying in the app designer’s community. Your first 10 apps will be terrible, so hurry up and get them out of the way. The thing about app design is that it is hard to make a good app, a good game, a fun and engaging creation. Just ask any app or game designer. Most games are actually not that good even if you have a talented team. Making educational apps is even a bit harder because we have the added burden of trying to make an engaging fun app that teaches something useful to the player.

Now you can make the argument that every successful game/app teaches something. When you play angry birds long enough you are actually learning something. Of course you are because you wouldn’t be getting better unless you didn’t learned how to fling birds across a span and knock down timber and kill pigs. But that skill really isn’t transferable to the real world. Educational apps need to teach skills for the real world while maintaining a high user experience. And that is hard to do.

Quite often digital educational materials go in the other direction and just plop educational materials onto a device without thinking of the form factor. We try to create educational experiences that are impossible to recreate on paper or with other more traditional paradigms. It only makes sense because we have a new form factor with tablets and new functionalities at our disposal with touch screen devices. Multi touch sensors, networked interconnectivity and much, much more. The future of digital educational learning materials is just getting started.

The answer to the question, is it difficult to make a good app, is to get a bunch of highly skilled people in the fields of graphics, animation, audio, educational content development and computer programing and make 10 apps together. Throw those out and then maybe, just maybe your 11th app will be good. By the way, the Chunky English series is my team’s 11th app.

About Bob Coffee

Coffee is an educator in Japan and has taught all over the archipelago. He currently teaches at a famous university in Kanagawa, Japan. He owns Shortsnap Learning where you can find his excellent apps for English Learners.

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